Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Writer Wednesday: Acting Professional by Randy Ingermanson

Photo Courtesy Pexels.com
I can’t believe it’s December, y’all! And that means that in less than a month, it will be time for PENuary. In support of encouraging better writing habits—for myself as well as other writers who struggle to maintain consistency—I’m working to re-establish my Writer Wednesday habit here on the blog. If you’re a writer, check in on Wednesdays for writing and marketing tips as well as writer inspiration.

Today I’m sharing a post for writers written by Randy Ingermanson (credit and links to his website below the article). If you don’t already subscribe to Randy’s E-Zine, I highly recommend it. His newsletters always contain useful tips for writers.

There are many aspects of marketing, but in this article, Randy succinctly pinpointed an issue that all writers need to take to heart: Professionalism. And he has three easy, highly actionable tips to improve your writer professionalism.


Marketing: Acting Professional

I went to my first writing conference in the summer of 1989. That was life-changing for me. Up till then, I didn’t know any authors. Or editors. Or agents. I met a few of each at that first conference, and some of them have been part of my life ever since.
The talk that had the most impact on me at that conference had a very simple message: “Be professional.” 
The author who gave the talk said a lot of things I don’t remember, but I do remember her repeating that simple phrase. “Be professional.” And I remember that she translated it into actions. “Being professional” really boils down to “acting professional.”
She wasn’t talking about being phony. There are writers out there who talk a big talk but aren’t actually doing much writing and certainly aren’t professional.
She was talking about behaving in a way that marks you out as a serious writer who will someday be a professional writer, even if you aren’t there yet and aren’t making any money. Writers who start out right tend to end up right. That’s just the way it is.
Back in those days, “acting professional” included getting some expensive letterhead paper for correspondence with editors. I dutifully went out and bought a ream of high-quality paper and spent some time creating an electronic template that would make a nice letterhead when printed. I even used it a few times. But I’d bet I’ve still got 480 sheets out of the original 500. Times have moved on, and nobody needs letterhead anymore. 
So what can a writer do that will fit the description of “acting professional” these days? I don’t want to overwhelm you with a long list, so I’ll keep this short.
Here are three things for starters.

Set up a Writing Budget

Very early on in my writing career, I realized that it takes money to make money. In those days, going to writing conferences was essential, and conferences cost money. I didn’t have a lot of cash, but I began setting aside $15 every month. That was money that I could spend on my writing, no questions asked.
The amount you budget is less important than the fact that you’re doing it. 
Having a writing budget means that you are serious about this writing thing. It means that you’re telling the rest of your family that this is important to you, it has value, and it has a cost. It also means that when it comes time to buy something you need for your writing, you don’t have to fight about it with anyone. You just take the money out of the pot you’ve already set aside.

Own Your Domain

Your “domain” here means the domain for your web site. You may not need a web site yet. You may not need one for several years.
But eventually, if and when you start getting your work published, you’ll need a domain for your web site. And it won’t be fun to discover that the domain you had in mind just got bought by a porn star who happens to have your same name. It can happen. It did happen to a writer I know.
You don’t buy a domain name; you rent it. You pay an annual fee to a domain registration site (for example GoDaddy.com or one of the many other sites that let you register a domain). 
It’s not terribly expensive to rent a domain. Figure around $10 per year. You just need to keep paying it every year without lapsing. It’s easy to set up an auto-renewal for your domain so it keeps renewing every year.
Ideally, your domain name should be your author name or something as close as you can get to your author name. 
But you need to be careful here. If your name is hard to spell (say your last name is Umstattd), then you’ll catch a lot of grief from people who can’t spell your name, which is almost everyone. In that case, you might want to think about not using your last name in your domain. You might need to get creative here.

Let's say your name is a more common one that's reasonably easy to spell. We'll take Jane Smith, as an example. What domain name should you use? There are a couple of issues to think about.
First, if you create a web site using one of the inexpensive builder tools (for example, Wordpress.com), you should make sure you get a custom domain—not the default Wordpress domain. You don’t want to spend five years building a site at JaneSmith.wordpress.com, and then move it to JaneSmith.com. If you do that, all the links to your old web site will fail.

Second, if your name is extremely common, it might turn out that the domain you want is already taken. If JaneSmith.com is taken, you might have to add a middle initial and make it JaneKSmith.com. Or JaneSmithAuthor.com. Or JaneSmithBooks.com. Generally, with a bit of thinking, you can find a domain that works for you.
With domain names, shorter is better. And it’s nice if you can pass the “radio test,” meaning that if you’re doing an interview on the radio and give out your web site address, people can easily figure out how to spell it. But you can’t always get exactly what you want. Do your best.

Have a Professional E-mail Address


This is easy to do, but it’s where a lot of writers fall down. 
There are two mistakes to make here:
  1. Using an e-mail address with a domain that isn’t yours.
  2. Using an e-mail address that doesn’t have your name in it.
Let’s talk about these in a little more detail. It’s important to get these right, but you need to also do them in the correct order.
First, your domain name. It’s very tempting to use the free e-mail address that comes with your internet service provider. So if you’re using Comcast, then maybe your account is John17@comcast.net
The problem comes five years from now, when you move to a new place and you’re no longer with Comcast. Now maybe you’re using ATT.com or CenturyLink.net or whatever. And suddenly your old e-mail address no longer works.
Now you’ve got five years worth of friends who all have the wrong e-mail address for you. If these include all your editor, agent, and writer friends, you’ve got a problem.
The solution is blindingly simple. If you’ve already nailed down your domain for your future web site, set up an e-mail account that goes with that domain. So if your domain is JaneKSmith.com, set up an email address for yourself as Jane@JaneKSmith.com. Later, if you get a virtual assistant, she might be Camy@JaneKSmith.com. If you add a PR guy, he might be Brad@JaneKSmith.com. Or if you change PR people every six months, maybe the email address they use will just be the generic PR@JaneKSmith.com
Some writers insist that they can’t set up an e-mail address on their own domain yet because it’s too much trouble. So they set up a free account at hotmail or yahoo or gmail or whatever. 
This is not ideal. A hotmail or yahoo email account definitely marks you as an amateur. A gmail account is a step up; it’s perceived as more professional. If you insist on using a gmail account, you still need to make sure that your name is part of your address. 
JaneKSmith@gmail.com is an acceptable e-mail address. If somebody gets an e-mail from that address, they know who sent it.
But imagine getting e-mail from any of these people:
  • Jack1947@gmail.com  (Now we all know what year Jack was born, but he may not want us to know that. Unfortunately, we don’t know his last name, and he probably does want us to know that. Who is this Jack?)
  • JaneAndBillAnd3Cats@gmail.com (This looks like a shared account, which means an e-mail sent to Jane might get read by Bill. Or deleted by Bill. But what happens if Jane and Bill split up next year? Who keeps the e-mail address? And again, who is Jane?)
  • IWrite4Jesus@gmail.com (Great, but who ARE you? And does Jesus know you’re writing for him?)
  • SpaghettiMonsterGuy@gmail.com. (No doubt this is hilariously funny to your five buddies you hung out with in college. However, the rest of us aren’t in on the joke. Also, we have no idea who you are.)
And yes, I’ve seen e-mail addresses similar to each of these, some of them many times. 

Act like a professional. Get an e-mail address that looks like it came from you. (And yes, I know that you can set up your e-mail program to put your name in the “from” line along with your e-mail address. Not everybody does this. Oddly enough, it’s usually the people with unrecognizable e-mail addresses who don’t do this.)

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

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